The results are in!
And our verdict is this – 2012 has been a great year for games. We’ve played them all. We’ve discussed them, debated them, challenged and championed and re-examined them, until at last we winnowed down a year’s worth of casual games in every genre, on every Windows platform, to just the ones we loved the most.
So now, as our lovely spokesmodel makes her stately way down the aisle with a gold-trimmed envelope on a little velvet pillow, we can finally announce the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the pick of the litter – the most irresistibly playable games we’ve seen all year!
It’s hard not to love any game whose name starts with “Free”. (Play as long as you want, for nothing? Yes, please!) But we couldn’t pick them all, so we looked for our nine finalists on monitors around the office, during lunch, in that mid-afternoon slump time, and whenever people had a few spare minutes between meetings. The final list is surprisingly diverse!
And the winner is…
You would think this game would be easy to play. It is. (Every card in the deck is visible from the start of each round.) You would think this game would be easy to win. It isn’t. (Getting one card from point A to point B can take many, many moves.) You would think this game would be easy to put down and forget as you move on to the next game. But ohhh, it’s not. It’s really, really not.
The tipping point – this game finally beat out the competition when… we caught one of our fellow judges in the office at 9pm, still playing. Turns out, the game’s name is frighteningly accurate.
Admittedly, there were more than a few after-hours hours spent enjoying our runners-up, as well:
Royal Envoy 2
By royal command, restore this kingdom! Construct, repair, and upgrade homes, mills, and more as you return Middleshire to happy prosperity.
This is the beloved classic version of Mahjong solitaire, with a wellspring of challenging layouts, and hours of saying, "okay, just one more round...”
Cradle of Persia
Match strings of gold, lumber, and other objects to collect them, then use these new resources to build an empire in the mighty desert!
A band of scurvy pirates has kidnapped the island’s innocent inhabitants. Smash groups of tiles to beat the buccaneers and free the fairies!
Each round contains two words and a clue... but the words are all spliced together! Can you untangle them before time runs out?
4 Elements II
Set the four fairies of earth, air, fire, and water free to restore power to the Book of Magic! Only your match-three skills can save this kingdom.
In this fast-paced smash-fest, you have 90 seconds to match and clear as many eggs as possible. Once the clock starts ticking, it’s a scramble to win!
Connect floral roots deep beneath the ground, and grow a healthy garden. Remember, the longer the root, the higher your score!
From the vaults of MSN Games to hard drives around the world, hundreds of new downloadable games were sampled, played, and enjoyed throughout the past year. But only nine of them could make our list of finalists in 2012, and only one could be the best!
And the winner is…
Gardenscapes: Mansion Makeover
The digital world is brimming over with seek-and-find games, so it takes a certain kind of charm to make one stand out from the pack. This sequel to the multifaceted Gardenscapes combines object-hunting gameplay with occasional puzzle quests and frequent decorating decisions, wrapping the whole thing in a charmingly improbable story that ties all the elements together.
The tipping point – this game finally beat out the competition when… we found ourselves arguing the relative merits of bookcase and flooring styles. True, it was a good-natured argument, but it was in public, and that’s a good sign we’re spending way too much time playing one game.
Especially when all the other finalists were so tempting...
House of 1000 Doors 2
A cursed and deadly gem is threatening the residents of the House of 1,000 Doors. The House needs you. Will you answer its call?
Mahjong World Contest
Not just a game; it’s a Mahjong showdown! A hundred unique levels await, each with its own difficulty and set of goals. Can you reach the ultimate rank?
Guide the Viking king Ragnar and his brave subjects to return color to their cursed land, defeat a great evil, and rescue the king’s sorceress daughters!
Big Kahuna Reef 3
Aloha! The latest installment of this match-three adventure features new mini-games, powerful charms, and even a Mouse Party multiplayer mode.
Big City Adventure: London
Explore beautiful and historic London! Hunt objects, collect postcards, and learn fascinating facts about this ancient city.
Work together with the renowned BAU team to hunt for clues, pursue the truth, and stop two dangerous and deadly criminal minds.
7 Wonders – Ancient Alien
Swap runes to make matches and collect resources, then watch your tiny minions build the world's great Wonders!
Solitaire Twist Collection
The classic strategy of solitaire meets wild layouts, fun power-ups and stunning visuals. Solitaire Twist will throw you for a loop!
By definition, every Windows 8/RT game is a 2012 game, and believe me, we’ve had a frantically fun month playing through every single one that launched along with Windows! But despite the sleep deprivation and ruinous coffee budget, we persevered and produced a list of nine fantastic finalists.
And the winner is…
It’s simple, it’s solid, it’s more fun than a whole sack of ferrets, and it’s absolutely free. Each round lasts only three minutes, so it’s perfect for a quick break. Some rounds feature themed words, others offer bonus points for using a particular letter, but in every single one you’ll be competing, live, against the rest of the Internet for bragging rights, Xbox achievements, and your spot on the global leaderboard.
The tipping point – this game finally beat out the competition when… we discovered that it accepts words that real human beings like to use, but most other word games disallow, like “orcs” and “delish”. Two real human thumbs up, Wordament!
Of course, those same thumbs are also way up for (and a bit sore from) all the runners-up:
The classic matching game updated with beautiful imagery, intuitive controls, and all the features that mahjong fans have come to expect.
Mahjong takes on a new twist – literally – when piles of tiles become flocks of blocks. Rotate the whole puzzle in 3d to find your perfect match!
Slice across the screen to slash and splatter fruit like a true ninja warrior. Fruit Ninja is the messiest and most satisfying fruit game ever!
Cut the Rope
A mysterious package has arrived! Help get candy to the little monster Om Nom in this highly innovative and addictive puzzle game.
4 Elements II Special Edition
Packed with match-three and hidden object challenges, this edition includes 48 exclusive levels, 6 custom wallpapers, and an MP3 soundtrack!
A feature-packed update of the sweet and quirky XBLA puzzle game! ilo and milo would love to meet, but a shifting world of cubes keeps them apart.
Pinball FX 2
Pinball FX is back and better than ever, with brand-new tables, great improvements, new features, and a spectacular cutting-edge physics model!
Angry Birds Space
After a giant claw kidnaps their eggs, the birds chase it into a wormhole and find themselves in a strange new galaxy – surrounded by space pigs!
(Of course, the best way to play all these Windows 8/RT game finalists is on a shiny new Microsoft Surface!)
Seriously, check this thing out…
· The power of Windows, the productivity of Office, and the joy of Xbox – apps, social media, music, and more.
· Incredibly thin, but still features a full-size USB port, microSD card slot, and HD video out port. Charge up, plug in, and show off.
· A slim, spill-resistant keyboard for typing. Available in vibrant colors, you’re sure to find a cover to match your personal style.
· Unique VaporMg casing delivers a high-quality fit and finish that’s ultra-light and durable.
· The integrated Kickstand enables hands-free entertainment. Kick back and enjoy HD video, take beautiful photos, or click in and do more with Touch Cover.
So many phone games, so little time! To help narrow down the massive field of challengers to just nine finalists, we decided to consider only Xbox LIVE-enabled games. (Actually, to be honest, we’d have probably ended up with the same list anyway, since we love collecting achievements almost as much as we love playing games. It’s almost a game in itself!) So with that said, here are our top picks for Bus Commute Sanity Preservation.
And the winner is…
Cut the Rope
Surprised as we are that anyone managed to trademark the phrase “om nom”, it is an appropriate name for this game’s voracious little monster. Each level is a challenging, obstacle-laden attempt to get candy into his mouth, and the adrenaline rush when you 100%-complete a tough level is ridiculously sweet. Slight downside: you might look a bit twitchy to people who don’t know you’re playing a physics-based phone game.
The tipping point – this game finally beat out the competition when… we got so stumped on one later level that we handed it over to a ten-year-old for help, and she refused to give it back. So that’s the “great for all ages” seal of approval (and proof that a tween can be smarter than a roomful of gaming professionals, since she solved it in three tries).
Still, this was the hardest decision to make out of all our categories, since the runners-up were all so close:
Lead your civilization from the dawn of man to the modern age and beyond. Inspire your nation and build the most powerful empire in the world.
The game that set the stage for all Final Fantasy games to come! Includes bonus dungeons The Soul of Chaos and the Labyrinth of Time.
Angry Birds Star Wars
Rebel spies have stolen secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the PIG STAR, and are racing to deliver them. Now they need your help!
Chickens Can’t Fly
Join the ranks of our scientists and see what chickens are capable of! Is Chicken afraid of Ghosts? Does frozen Chicken get dizzy? Let’s find out.
Physics and emotion go hand in hand, when Mush’s mood is the key to victory! Solve puzzles as you tumble through unique and beautiful worlds.
Compete with the whole internet, on the same board in real time, for the highest score in each round! Will you be the Wordament champion?
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
20 precision-performance cars. 24 day-and-night tracks. Will you lay down the law as a Cop, or make your road-burning getaway as a Racer?
Explode all the enemies! The world of Fragger is at risk, so unleash your shooting skills and become a grenade launcher expert!
Haven’t yet made the leap to Windows Phone? Consider this: instead of “waiting on hold” or “standing in line”, you could be “playing just one more level” or “getting that last achievement”.
And it makes phone calls, too!
· Pin the stuff you care about - people, apps, songs, websites, directions, games, photos, docs, and more.
· Kidproof your phone. Kid’s Corner grants your little ones access only to the apps, games, videos, and music you choose for them.
· Point, shoot, and share in an instant. Launch the camera with the press of a button, then take a photo or shoot HD video – even when the phone is locked.
· Kick off conversations (phone, text, IM, email), check out your friends’ latest posts and photos, or even make a Skype call right from a contact card with People Hub.
· With SkyDrive, your photos, videos, and Office docs are always available right on your Windows Phone.